ATLANTA—When the Braves announced their additions to the 40-man roster in November, one name failed to generate the usual nod of expectation.
Granted, Aaron Northcraft has made steady progress through the organization since signing as a 10th-round pick in 2009 out of a California high school. But it wasn't until this past season that the big righthander emerged as a true prospect.
The 22-year-old Northcraft put together his best season as a pro while pitching at high Class A Lynchburg. Though somewhat overshadowed by a few of his teammates, most notably J.R. Graham, Northcraft led the Carolina League with 160 strikeouts and 27 starts while ranking third with 152 innings and a .247 opponent average.
Numbers, however, only tell part of the story. Possessing an excellent mound presence while throwing the ball from a low three-quarters arm slot, Northcraft's stuff went to another level after working with pitching coach Derek Botelho.
After a rough stretch in May, Northcraft moved from the right side of the rubber to the left. The shift, along with a few minor mechanical adjustments, created more movement on his offerings, particularly with a low-90s sinker that Botelho has compared to that of Atlanta hurler Tim Hudson.
"The ball really started to jump out of his hand, and the movement he generates is impressive," Botelho said. "By moving (along the rubber), he got on more of a true line to the middle of the plate, which allowed his arm to work freer and easier."
Shortly after making the change, Northcraft threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Salem, the first in Lynchburg franchise history. That outing also marked the first shutout of his career and his 10 strikeouts were a career high.
• The Braves are expected to move Martin Prado from left field to third base, but Juan Francisco's performance this winter with Licey could have general manager Frank Wren thinking twice. Francisco was hitting .317/.375/.584 with seven home runs through his first 27 games this winter.
• Wren received trade interest in 23-year-old rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a player the organization has no desire to move. The Braves are believed to have floated fellow shortstop Tyler Pastornicky's name in potential deals at the Winter Meetings.